There’s a general perception that the Tea Party is the party of white supremacists — racists plain and simple. That’s largely driven by the focus on the racist messages seen in news media shots. Well, that and the frequent spotting of confederate flags in the same shots.
This view is wrong. The Tea Party is the party of the so-called Patriot groups, of which a key element is the Militia Movement.
Patriot groups have one element in common. They believe there is a conspiracy, of which the government is a key part, to replace “real” America with an undesirable alternative that will deprive citizens of their rights. Their entire existence is built on resisting this conspiracy — by words, by deeds, and if need be by force. While this description encompasses white supremacists, it’s not limited to them in any respect.
The SPLC identified 512 patriot groups in 2009. Of these, 127 were militias. In 2008 those numbers were 149 and 42, respectively. Yes, that’s more than double – more than triple the number of militias.
So why am I emphasizing militias? Simple – militias are the armed forces. Almost all the Patriots are strongly in favor of gun ownership, but militias take it from individual use to organized use. The quality of their military performance may be lacking, but their express intent is militaristic resistance.
So why do I say the Tea Party is the party of the Patriot Groups? Because consistently, recognized Tea Party leaders and officers happen to be members in good standing — usually leaders — of organizations on the SPLC list. In fact, they’re quite often members of the militias.
At this point I need to make a standard defense against idiots. I did not say all Tea Party members are members of these. Not all want the government overthrown. Not even all leaders are members of these organizations.
But I do ask that you pay attention to what the standard talk of the Tea Party is, and compare it to the speech of most of the SLPC patriot group says. “America’s been stolen from us by a small group of elitists, unrepresentative of “real” America.” “Don’t trust the government.” “Our guns are here in case our voices aren’t enough.” I’ve heard those, and more, at several Tea Party rallies.
Racism isn’t the big deal, not really. Not all Tea Party members — not all Patriot Groups, or even Militias — are racists. Their umbrella welcomes those groups, and the racist message draws the sharpest reaction of “this ain’t right.” But they’re just part.
We have a large and active group that thinks the America in which they live isn’t right; it needs fixed. And a lot of them think violence is inevitable.
Yes, I’m scared.